2020 is a pretty decent time to be a record collector. I say this because it feels like anything you’re looking for (within reason) you’re likely to find. Shopping for records online is easier than ever, which means tracking down a copy of that new release will take you all of 5 minutes. Gone are the days of needing to call around to different stores to see if they have a copy of the LP or single you’re on the hunt for. The fact that Barnes & Noble, Target, and even Wal-Mart now sell vinyl records is proof that the interest in this medium is back in a big way. The one real drawback, of course, is that since vinyl is once again a hot mainstream commodity, major record labels and big-box stores know they can charge consumers a good chunk more per unit; case in point, I’d love to pick up the most recent Lana Del Ray album — last year’s Norman Fucking Rockwell — but the $39.99-price tag at my neighborhood Target has kept me from pulling the trigger. So demand is increasing and costs can be high, but at least the supply is there.
Except when it’s not. What do you do when your favorite record isn’t available on vinyl, not because it sold out before you could nab a copy but because it never existed in the first place? By now, I take it for granted that any artist I dig will release their newest album on vinyl and am honestly shocked if that ends of not being the case. With streaming royalties for bands being as paltry as they are, and with interest in CDs waning, vinyl seems like a fairly reliable horse for artists/labels to bet on. However, this was not the case 10-15 years ago. Sure, records were a lot cheaper to buy when you’d find them, but far fewer labels were producing them in the first place. And that brings me to my current predicament.
Last year is when I first started drafting a mental wish list for favorite albums that never got the vinyl treatment. I was thinking about two records in particular by the skate-punk band, Slick Shoes, a favorite of mine since I was 16; Burn Out and Wake Up Screaming (their second and third full-lengths, respectively) were pivotal releases for me, in constant rotation in my CD player all throughout high school. Their first LP, Rusty, was actually the first vinyl record I ever bought, and I’d always been bummed that their subsequent two albums never made it to wax. Fast forward to January of this year, and Tooth & Nail Records ended up releasing both of these records on vinyl for the first time ever, 20+ years after they were originally released. I’m not saying I willed these into existence, but I’m not saying that’s not what happened either.
So, with this same spirit of blind hope in the face of totally unlikely odds, I present to you my dream team: my roster of beloved albums that desperately need to see a vinyl release. Let’s see if I can tempt The Fates into making some more magic happen.
Gatsby’s American Dream | Volcano (2005)
While the idea for this week’s column is one that’s been floating around in my brain for quite some time, it was a recent post by Overdue Collection Agency that sparked my interest in actually writing about it. They were marking the 15-year anniversary of this album by Gatsby’s American Dream, and my hopes were both immeasurably raised and then swiftly dashed in the first few sentences: “Today is the 15th Anniversary of Volcano by Gatsbys American Dream. An ominous, poppy album about the arrogance of humanity at odds with their environment. […] Before I continue, I wanted to state there are no current plans (that I am aware of) to release Volcano or the self-titled album on vinyl. This is not for lack of trying, I assure you.” DANG IT.
I don’t know what to say about this landmark album and band that hasn’t already been said. With the release of 2003’s Ribbons and Sugar, Gatsby’s American Dream became a bright light in the exploding (and overgrown) early 2000’s pop-punk/emo scene. Their songs were interesting, challenging, and thoughtful in ways that the music of their contemporaries was not. I bought Volcano right when it came out, and it immediately confirmed what I already felt deep down: these guys are better than everybody else doing this type of music. From the solo vocal line that opens “Theatre” to the final, almost clumsy pick scrapes of the guitar at the end of “The Loosing of the Shadow,” this album is a front-to-backer, not just because every song is great but because there are so many nods and call-back’s to other songs on the record; it’s an album that really rewards the listener for a continuous listening experience. Frankly, it’s too good of an album for the scene it was a part of.
Recommended Tracks: Didn’t you read what I wrote? You need to listen to the whole thing.
Note: While it’s tragic to me that Volcano has yet to be released on vinyl, Overdue Collection Agency did us all a great service by issuing Gatsby’s first two LPs and their In the Land of Lost Monsters EP on vinyl several years back. If you don’t already have these in your collection, be sure to pick them up, as the label’s attention to detail on these releases is top-notch.
Fiona Apple | When the Pawn… (1999)
“Love Ridden,” off Fiona Apple’s album, When the Pawn…, is one of the best pieces of American music in recorded history, period. Fight me.
I want your warmth
But it will only make me colder when it’s over
So I can’t tonight, baby
No, not “baby” anymore
If I need you I’ll just use your simple name
Only kisses on the cheek from now on
And in a little while, we’ll only have to wave
This is just one incredible moment from an album that’s brimming with incredible moments, and I only regret coming to this album as late as I did, right as I was about to graduate college in 2006.
Like so many, I bought Fiona Apple’s first CD, Tidal, after seeing the videos for “Shadowboxer” and “Criminal” all over MTV while I was in middle school. I then unintentionally stopped following her until, nearly ten years later, I heard friends raving about her third album, 2005’s Extraordinary Machine. Upon listening, I was back in, and from there I worked my way back to When the Pawn…, which I’d missed entirely upon its release.
I’m grateful for Apple’s music, as it’s gone on to play an important part in my life. Her records are among a select few that my wife and I can enjoy equally, and our first dance at our wedding was to “Pale September.” We’ve even gotten to share in the experience of seeing Fiona Apple live, most recently in 2012 at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, an intimate and special venue in which to see such a great artist.
Now that three of her four studio albums are all available on vinyl (the most recent of which being the now-sold-out Tidal, which was finally issued by Vinyl Me, Please back in 2017), my sights remain set on a vinyl pressing of When the Pawn…, although who knows if I’ll ever get my wish. A boy can dream.
Recommended Tracks: “On the Bound,” “Love Ridden,” “A Mistake”
The Junior Varsity | Wide Eyed (2005)
Although I might say the same about any of the records on this list, Wide Eyed is an album that holds a special place in my heart. I attended college at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal from 2002 to 2006. Almost as soon as I started attending and even playing shows on campus, I met the guys in The Junior Varsity, a couple of whom were also students at ISU. We soon became friends, and they quickly became a favorite band of mine, not just in Central Illinois, but in my CD collection. The band members had musical talent coming out of their ears, and TJV had really great songs. I don’t know how many times I saw them play, but the number was definitely in the double digits. I never passed on an opportunity to catch a show, and when my college band had the good fortune to share the bill with them, it was always an event we looked forward to.
Sometime in 2004, The Junior Varsity signed a deal with Victory Records in Chicago, a label that, by that time, had released albums I loved by the likes of Spitalfield, Thursday, and Taking Back Sunday. At this news, my mind was blown, not because I didn’t think they were good enough (the complete opposite, really) but because this was the biggest thing to happen within my group of musical peers. It felt like a real turning point to see friends of mine on the verge of making their band their career. I have so many distinct memories from that time in our lives; I remember hearing demos of new songs they were working on for the record; I remember seeing them work out some of those songs live at their shows and thinking this new crop of material was their best stuff yet; I remember, after the album was done, my friend, Nick, who played keys in the band, came over to my apartment to play me the record on my computer. Of all my recollections from that time, my most distinct memory is being on tour with my own band in the summer of 2005 and heading to a Best Buy somewhere in Texas on July 12 (the same week as my 21st birthday), so that we could all buy a copy of our friends’ CD; the simple fact that we were able to purchase an album made by friends of ours at a Best Buy seemed so huge. Things were happening.
Any time I listen to these songs, a wave of nostalgia washes over me. Those were some of the best times I ever had playing in a band, and seeing our peers get some much-deserved recognition was honestly the best. This record will always be an emotional time capsule for me, which, on top of the stellar songs, is even more reason I hope it can find its way into my record collection someday.
Recommended Tracks: “Get Comfortable,” “Everyone’s Got Something They’re Running Out Of,” “Do You Mind?”
Micah Schnabel | Your New Norman Rockwell (2017)
The music that Micah writes is essential, especially in these times we’re living in. Micah is a champion of the have-not’s and sings songs that call for compassion, caring, and kindness for our fellow human beings. They shed light on the darker areas of life in a way that encourages us to do better. As such, Micah writes the kind of heartbreakingly sad songs that also manage to somehow instill me with hope. I don’t know how he does it, but that is a part of his magic. Your New Norman Rockwell (which, not important, but its release preceded the Lana Del Ray album I mentioned earlier by two years) was hands-down my favorite record of 2017; while there were plenty of other records I enjoyed that year, I don’t remember any of them off the top of my head because there wasn’t even a close runner-up.
Oh, what a bummer it is to be a human being
With these politics, religion, and reality TV
“God bless me”? No thank you. I’ve seen Her work,
And I can’t say I’m a fan
Micah’s songs are honest, and what I love most about them is that, even when exploring the darkness, they also attempt to show us how good we all have the potential to be. It’s clear to me that while he may not see the world through starry eyes, he does believe in our ability to choose love. I think that’s a reminder we can all use from time to time.
While it’s unfortunate that Your New Norman Rockwell has yet to receive the vinyl treatment of which it is so deserving, I was really excited that Micah was able to put out his most recent record, 2019’s The Teenage Years of the 21st Century, on vinyl. I pre-ordered his new album a few months back and was thrilled when it arrived in the mail this week. All of the qualities of Micah’s music that I loved on Your New Norman Rockwell are present once again on The Teenage Years of the 21st Century, so if you’re looking to add some vinyl to your collection, be sure to check out the album and order yourself a copy.
Recommended Tracks: “Jazz and Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” “Oh, What a Bummer,” “Hello, My Name is Henry”
Green Day | Foot In Mouth (1997)
When Green Day released my all-time favorite album, Dookie, in 1994, I was 10 years old. Not that I’d understand this record’s significance in the context of my life until much later, but there was still no way that 10-year old me would have had a chance at seeing them when they came through Chicago on tour in support of that album. Truth be told, not yet having been to a concert at that point in my life, I don’t know that it would have even occurred to me to express interest in going to see the band live. Regardless, Green Day played Chicago twice on their Dookie tour, March 27th at the Vic Theatre and November 18th at the Aragon Ballroom, the latter of which was immortalized for a generation in MTV’s Jaded in Chicago broadcast of that exact performance. To this day, any time I meet someone who actually was at that show at the Aragon, I become absolutely green (see what I did there?) with envy.
By the time Insomniac came out in 1995, I was an 11-year old superfan, still both too young and oblivious to potentially figure out a way to see the band live. If adult me could somehow travel back in time and get the opportunity to see them on either of these album tours, I might weep tears of genuine appreciation. Since I don’t own a time machine (yet), the next best thing is listening to Foot In Mouth, a compilation CD of live tracks that was released in Japan and available in the US as an import. The early- to mid-’90’s will always be the “classic era” of Green Day for me, so Foot In Mouth’s balance of live cuts of songs from the first four full-lengths is pretty unbeatable. In short, if this were to exist on vinyl one day, I’d buy the hell out of it.
Now, I will acknowledge that there is a vinyl bootleg of the aforementioned MTV broadcast (which I own), but there is no comparing the grainy, overly-compressed ripped TV audio to the liveliness of the officially-sanctioned Foot In Mouth tracks, which were engineered by Rob Cavallo and Jerry Finn. For that reason alone, a proper vinyl release of this killer comp would be such a welcome addition to my Green Day vinyl collection.
Recommended Tracks: You literally know every single one of these songs.
Is This Thing (Still) On?
Believe it or not, when I started writing this, I was worried about not having enough to say, which goes to show you how little self-awareness I possess. If you made it through today’s entry, why not embrace all the amazing vinyl that does exist and treat yourself to something cool? Although, truth be told, if you’re reading this, you (like me) probably don’t need an excuse to buy more records other than the simple fact that there is an endless supply of records to buy and enjoy. And if you have any favorite albums that have yet to see the light of day on vinyl, I’d love to know what they are! Maybe I can send some good vibes your way in an attempt to cosmically will your picks into existence, so long as you’re willing to do the same favor for me, of course!
As a postscript to each of my columns, I like to highlight some recent vinyl acquisitions because I’m always working to grow my collection and, frankly, part of the fun of collecting is talking about it. Here are some of my most recent scores:
Lord Buffalo – Tohu Wa Bohu (Blues Funeral Recordings) – Blues Funeral has been on a real hot streak for me lately, with their recent output of amazing LPs by the likes of Lowrider, Spotlights, and Lord Buffalo. My copy of Tohu Wa Bohu arrived sometime after our state got the order to shelter in place, and it’s been a welcome companion while I (and we all) have been stuck inside. I’m not quite sure how to describe the sound of this album, other than it reminds me of a heavier, more atmospheric Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. This is dark, brooding, heavy folk that is the aural equivalent to the eerie tension felt right before a thunder storm rolls through. This one has been in frequent rotation lately and will likely remain on my turntable for some time. I’ve really been enamored not only with the sound of this record but also the look of this green with black smoke vinyl; while this particular variant is unfortunately sold out, you can still snag a copy on clear vinyl on their Bandcamp page.
Sleepwulf – Sleepwulf (Cursed Tongue Records) – I’ve placed a similar faith in Cursed Tongue’s releases lately where (like with Blues Funeral), if they have a new record they’re putting out, I know it’s well worth my time to check it out, as the music they specialize in is right in my wheelhouse. The self-titled Sleepwulf LP is no exception. I pre-ordered the vinyl on the strength of the 2 or 3 singles I’d heard in advance of the album’s release, and Sleepwulf did not disappoint. When it comes to ’70’s style occult rock and proto-doom like this, I’m all in. This is the kind of music that, when it’s playing in the house, my wife will ask me, “Is this an old band or a new band that wants to sound like an old band?” which always cracks me up (and, with me, it’s usually the latter case). So if you’re into retro, Sabbath-style riff worship, this record would be well at home in your collection. Don’t wait either, as the first pressing is already sold out, and I imagine the same will soon be true for the second.
Chris Pagnani, author of Wax Poetic, is a dad, husband, musician, and record nerd living in the Chicago suburbs. When he’s not archiving his record collection on Discogs, he busies himself with drinking lots of coffee, working a real job that pays the bills, playing drums in Hot Alice and No Alternative, and, it should go without saying, buying more records.